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article imageUS boycotts world disarmament body over Syria presidency

By Nina LARSON (AFP)     Jun 5, 2018 in Politics

The United States said it would boycott Tuesday's session of the Conference on Disarmament amid fears that Syria is using its presidency of the body to "normalise" the regime.

"Based on Syria's repeated attempts last week to use its presidency of the Conference on Disarmament to normalise the regime and its unacceptable and dangerous behaviour, we are not participating in today's session," Robert Wood, the US ambassador to the Geneva-based body, said in a statement.

"We will continue to defend United States' interests" in the disarmament body, he added.

Syria last week took over the body's rotating, four-week presidency, which according to a decades-old practice among its 65 member states follows the alphabetical order of country names in English.

Wood was present during the first plenary session on Syria's watch a week ago, when he took the opportunity to lead a number of countries to protest what he described as "a travesty".

Despite the mechanical nature of Syria's arrival at the helm of the disarmament conference, following Switzerland and Sweden, a number of countries voiced their outrage that a representative of Damascus was presiding over the body that negotiated the chemical weapons ban.

Syria's ambassador Hussam Edin Aala meanwhile slammed last week's protest as "sensational propaganda" and "characterised by double-standards."

More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria's civil war began in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

After hundreds of people died in chemical attacks near Damascus in 2013, a deal with Russia was struck to rid Syria of chemical weapons, staving off US air strikes.

But the United Nations and Western countries have accused Damascus of carrying out a number of chemical attacks since then.

A suspected chlorine and sarin attack in the Syrian town of Douma on April 7 this year triggered punitive missile strikes against alleged chemical weapons sites in Syria by the US, Britain and France.

- Special chemical weapons meeting -

Last week, Wood had briefly walked out of the room when Edin Aala took the floor, before returning to deliver a scathing speech.

"Today marks a sad and shameful day in the history of this body," he told the assembly on May 29.

He vowed at the time that throughout Syria's presidency, the United States would be represented "in this hall to ensure that Syria is not able to advance initiatives that run counter to the interests of the United States."

That was a promise the US has now backed away from, with no American representatives present during Tuesday's session.

But other nations were represented, with diplomats continuing to slam Syria over chemical weapons use.

The use of such weapons "under any circumstances is abhorrent and must be rigorously condemned," the representative for the European Union, Anne Kemppainen told the gathering.

"It is a war crime and may amount to a crime against humanity," she stressed.

British representative Simon Cleobury meanwhile said his country, along with Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, Romania and the United States, had therefore called for "a special session of the Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention."

The meeting, he said, would "be a key moment for the international community to consider ways to strengthen the OPCW", or the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The global chemical arms watchdog meanwhile said the special session would take place in The Hague on June 26 and 27.

More about Un, Disarmament, Diplomacy, US, Syria
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